icele grocery shopping this weekend, I noticed a display in the back of the store where packaged chocolate chip cookies with orange and black chips were discounted almost 90% from their original price. That’s because it was less than a week before Thanksgiving and these were Halloween-decorated cookies. Being a frugal shopper, I bought some anyway. Once at home, I quickly put them in the cookie jar, disposed of the packaging and went about my day. My boys did not think twice about the colors. In fact, I went back to the store the next day and bought the rest – six more packs. The cookies had an expiration date of February. I’m not worried; they will be devoured within a few weeks.

This is the downfall to holiday-themed foods: once the holiday passes, the products are almost worthless. But before the event, holiday-themed foods are an indulgence that most Americans are willing to splurge on as they assist with “putting them in the spirit of the season.” Retailers and marketers know that people tend to buy more specialty and thematic foods during the months of October, November and December.

Advancements in packaging and printing technologies have made it easier for food companies to offer holiday-themed, limited-edition products. Many times there is nothing different about the product. It’s simply the package. And with some staple products, such holiday-inspired packaging creates a purchasing occasion that might not have otherwise existed.

For example, last year, Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup was offered in three Christmas-dressed bottles. The company promoted the syrup, a product that one usually only buys when the cupboard is bare, as a holiday bottle collection only offered for a limited time.

“Collecting Mrs. Butterworth’s holiday bottles are memorabilia that will help people relive their childhood and let’s face it, collecting is fun,” according to a company-issued press release. “The satisfaction of completing a collection is a sense of fulfillment and having the option to trade or sell makes it even more exciting. So if you are one of the lucky people who can find these Mrs. Butterworth’s holiday bottles at a store near you, go get them before they run out! If you can’t find Mrs. Butterworth’s fun holiday bottles and you love a challenge, challenge friends and families to search for all three.  Be creative, divide and conquer, and share with others how you found the limited edition bottles!”

Promotions said that Mrs. Butterworth’s continues to make families smile at the breakfast table with pancakes and waffles and now she can help spread holiday cheer. With holiday Mrs. Butterworth’s, everyone will be eager to get in the kitchen to create the ultimate holiday breakfast that the family will never forget.

Rumor has it, more limited-edition bottles will be debuting this season. Start warming up the griddle!

There’s no doubt that limited-edition products create a sense of urgency to purchase the themed product, since there’s a chance the store will run out. Waiting for it to go on sale is not an option.

The emotions that seasonal celebrations stir up will often drive a consumer to purchase the product. Let’s face it, how many of us really like Peeps, those yellow marshmallow birds sold for Easter? But many of us have purchased them for our own children because they remind us of when we were kids. Most of the time the Peeps go uneaten, get hard as a rock and eventually are discarded.

And people must buy fruitcake, as the stores all sell them. But does anyone really eat them?

Emotion is a key factor that makes people buy a product, with many consumers being less price sensitive during holidays. Further, the winter holiday season is the quintessential time for families to get together, laugh, love and...indulge.

This is why Talenti Gelato e Sorbetto, Dallas, has introduced Old World Eggnog, a flavor that packs the comforting ingredients of traditional eggnog in a rich, creamy gelato. (See this month’s new products.) “We wanted to take this classic holiday drink and turn it into a unique frozen dessert that could be enjoyed on its own or as a complement to other holiday treats,” says Joshua Hochschuler, founder and CEO. “The flavor is simple, clean and does not stray from what people know and love about eggnog. We are excited to announce what will hopefully become a new tradition for families across the country.”

Promised Land Dairy, Floresville, Texas, also is starting a new tradition: limited-edition Promised Land Chocolate Egg Nog. The dairy, which is known for its Jersey cows milk products, in particular Midnight Chocolate Milk and Old Fashioned Egg Nog, decided to combine the two for a special holiday treat.

“We just could not pass up the opportunity to blend our two-top selling items to see if we could make a new treat for the holidays,” says Gordon Kuenemann, general sales manager. “Some people that find eggnog flavors overwhelming or premium, rich chocolate to be too intense will find this to be an absolutely perfect blend of these two all-natural flavors.

“We constantly battle perception that ‘milk is milk,’” he says. “By keeping a roster of fresh and innovative, limited-edition flavors in front of customers throughout the year, we are able to create anticipation, excitement and new news for our product, differentiate our brand and help dispel the notion that milk is boring.”

Kuenemann agrees that during holiday times, in particular, the winter ones, consumers are often willing to dig a little deeper into their pockets and splurge on products designed to put them in the spirit of the holiday. “Love, friendship, fellowship — in our culture, these feelings are often expressed through food,” he adds. “Home baking, for example, skyrockets at Thanksgiving and Christmas, as a way of sharing holiday cheer and the joy that sweet treats bring. Our super-premium eggnogs and chocolate milks literally fly off the shelves, even though they typically cost more than our competition. We believe the rich, indulgent flavor and texture of these products makes people feel happy, cared for and just a little bit luxurious at this giving time of year.”

This trend is catching on in foodservice, too. For example, hot chocolate has never been cooler. Baskin-Robbins, a subsidiary of Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc., Canton, Mass., introduced Winter Chocolate Marshmallow as its November feature flavor. The ice cream features rich hot chocolate-flavored ice cream with a whipped cream ribbon and swirls of marshmallow dough. 

“With Baskin-Robbins’ new Winter Chocolate Marshmallow flavor, ice cream enthusiasts can enjoy the month of November with the coolness of summer and the warmth of winter combined in our newest flavor creation,” says Stan Frankenthaler, Dunkin’ Brands executive chef and vice president of innovation. “Winter Chocolate Marshmallow is part of a popular growing dessert lovers’ trend for frozen hot chocolate treats. This innovative trend now continues at Baskin-Robbins as we introduce a refreshing new twist to a traditional winter treat.” 

And Emeryville, Calif.-based Jamba Juice Co., says it is putting “wow” into Americans holidays by offering the new Apple Cinnamon Cheer Smoothie for a limited time, which started November 15. “We wanted to give our fans something extra to celebrate this season and what better way than to launch a new healthy holiday treat — our Apple Cinnamon Cheer Smoothie,” says Susan Shields, senior vice president and chief marketing officer. “Not only do we have delicious, convenient, better-for-you smoothie and food options for breakfast, lunch or a snack, but we can satisfy your holiday sweet tooth with a healthy treat alternative.”

Check out the new winter holiday-themed dairy foods that debuted in 2011. It’s not too late to develop some dairy innovations for spring. Watch out Peeps!